Dr. C. Carney Essay Assignment #2:
Friends or Foes (or Both)?
The Enigmatic, -Hacktivist- Truth-Deliverers of the Digital Age
I. Overview / Theme:
It was inevitable that the vacuum created by the death of journalism* would be filled by an alternative means of information dissemination—for the better or the worse of it. Individuals (i.e. “Hacktivists”) like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, along with groups such as “Anonymous,” are committed to what they describe as a “Transparency Movement”—delivering truth to the masses and exposing corruption/lies wherever they may be found. They use their highly proficient technological savvy to essentially do what most people could never imagine—either because of the intelligence and expertise required to accomplish it, or because of the illegality and significant risk associated with these Robin hood-like tactics. These folks truly illustrate the old maxim, at least in terms of their rationale for what they do, as they believe “the ends justify the means” in all their endeavors. The existence of this new electronic voice of the people is combined with a “perfect storm” of other factors associated with the 21st century, such as the vast scope of internet communications worldwide, internet dependency among individuals and organizations, globalism (and all that globalism implies), increased surveillance, increased cases of terrorism, politicization of so many areas in society that were once free from politics, and human corruption in all shapes and sizes (which, of course, has always existed among humans beings in every age). While there are many other individuals and groups beyond Assange, Snowden, and Anonymous, these are the most popular three names on the subject.
* Professional, objective news reporting is indeed dead! The high-caliber news reporting among people like the late Walter Cronkite is non-existent in our present media climate, as genuine news has been replaced with biased/subjective editorializing and propaganda (yet still calling it news and reporting—as if).
Upon an initial investigation into these groups and individuals, a few facts become quite apparent.
First, the positive: 1.They demonstrate a remarkable degree of objectivity, as it could be said that they are “equal opportunity exposers” of ALL sensitive information, wherever it may be found, and thus are not driven by a single ideological agenda (they are driven by a philosophical principle of delivering the truth); 2. They span the globe, and are essentially individuals without borders or national identities/obligations (often, by their own self-imposed exiles); 3. They all have an impressive degree of technological brilliance, as they are all—to varying degrees—essentially sharing the highly exclusive helm of the ship we call the internet, yet without a formal invitation to do so (a position reserved for an elite club of companies like Google, governments like the U.S., and internet pioneers like Bill Gates); 4. They possess and demonstrate self-sacrificing and “heroic” qualities, which are admirable, as they seem to be driven by a much larger vision than themselves; 5. They are committed to doing that which the world of journalism and network television refuse to do: deliver the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth….to the people
Now, the negative: 1. They (carelessly) jeopardize national security and/or fragile geo-political situations, without the big picture knowledge of international relations between governments or specific expertise in matters pertaining to such relations; 2. They are an egotistical lot by nature of their brilliance, and some of their exploits may be for the sole purpose of fulfilling their egos with little regard for the fallout of their actions (which is not to say that the end product of such exploits may not have greater benefit for others as a positive consequence); 3. They break the law, as hacking of any sort is ultimately an illegal activity (their opponents would argue that a nation (or nations globally) of laws cannot afford to make subjective exceptions—regardless of the corruption and the large-scale breaking of laws against the people their findings reveal); 4. They contribute to a climate of a highly volatile and dangerous internet—an electronic version of the wild west, which was a very dangerous place for everyone—by making hacking more commonplace and accessible for those less sophisticated and/or driven by the principles described in the positive section above.
Again, these are just general observations in two categories; there are many more questions to ask and factors to consider in any analysis of this new breed of “citizen journalism.” There are many more specific points to make in both the positive and the negative categories, which makes this whole subject ideal for our third paper in English 1302! This topic, like few others, absolutely requires the kind of critical thinking and analysis we’ve discussed this semester. It doesn’t allow for a thinking person to merely treat the subject as a zero-sum game—arriving at either an “all good” or an “all bad” conclusion without recognizing the difficult challenges associated with leaning either towards the good or the bad of these individuals and organizations. Such “sticky” topics like this are fertile soil in which to plant an argument, an especially one using the Toulmin method!
II. The Assignment: Write a persuasive argument using the six elements of the Toulmin structure and fully develop your argument around a clear focus on one of three claim types: of Fact, of Policy, or of Value.
A. Getting Started: Establishing a Claim
As you now know, the first indicator of a Toulmin-structured argument is the word “claim”. As part I above indicates, you are required to construct your own unique claim statement in response to the question, “what am I trying to prove?” Or, in this case, you’ll be asking: “what am I trying to specifically prove about a highly particular and focused dimension of “hacktivism,” “citizen journalism,” or the “transparency movement.” You need to answer both specifically and directly, in addition to identifying your claim statement for the particular type of claim it is (fact, value, or policy). Again, when you answer the “what am I trying to prove?” question in the form of a claim statement, you will find that it is either a claim of fact, of value, or of policy. Each claim type has its own pros and cons, so it is not advisable to structure your claim around the claim type first, which is like putting the proverbial “cart before the horse,” but rather to make the claim statement by answering the question as specifically and directly as possible and then determine what claim type you have—what claim terrain you are hiking through! Finally, regarding the claim, it should be obvious by this point in the semester that a claim needs to be debatable and/or controversial in order to be valid! In other words, when you assert your claim, you should be able to imagine a number of people in a room potentially disagreeing with you about some aspect of it—if not the whole claim altogether.
B. Identifying the “Grounds” and a “Warrant” for your Claim
Both of these important areas need to be understood before you can proceed further, as the “warrant” is the overarching principle that gives your claim logical “permission” to exist in the first place! It makes your claim make sense in a larger framework—one that is based upon a particular principle, or moral, that you believe many people embrace and/or accept already—thus paving the way for them to (hopefully) understand the logos behind your specific claim as it supports the warrant governing many related claims already out there (and those yet to emerge). Following the larger overarching principle of a warrant, the “grounds” function in a similar way insomuch as the grounds likewise give “permission” of sorts to your claim’s existence—not through a broad, generalized, and overarching principle, but rather through much more localized, detailed, and specific facts that provide a clear and logical basis for your specific claim to go forward. You might say the grounds provide a logical imperative that makes it obvious why you are trying to prove your specific claim statement is necessary to address.
C. Establishing the Necessary “Qualifiers” and “Rebuttals” for Your Argument
Even the most focused arguments are in need of establishing specific perimeters around them called “qualifiers” in the Toulmin structure. The best way to describe these qualifiers is to say they are the ways in which you tell your audience, especially a hostile audience, what your argument will and will not address—what is and is not contained in your particular claim. You could say it’s like painting lines on a soccer field that mark the boundaries for the game in order for the game to be played effectively. Or, you could say qualifiers are like rules of any game that all players understand before they begin to play: they are named, explained, described, and set in order to avoid confusion and conflict once the game gets underway. Qualifiers should be constructed with others in mind, as the writer of an argument should be able to anticipate what it is about his or her claim that may be potentially confusing—what may throw readers in a direction the author did not intend. I put “rebuttals” in the same category as “qualifiers” because they, too, depend for their effectiveness on the skills of inference and anticipation of others—namely, the audience of the argument. “Rebuttals” are an essential ingredient to deductive reasoning—to a deductive argument—because they anticipate all the points of opposition to your claim that may potentially arise in the minds of your audience members—especially among the hostile, non-neutral audience members! The job of the writer in a deductive, Toulmin argument is to both anticipate the rebuttals, or arguments against a claim and sub-claims, and to refute such rebuttals!
D. Developing “Backing” (“Evidence”) for Your Argument
In other words, “research” is required to find all the significant support for your argument, especially in light of the fact that we often argue about things that are well beyond our knowledge base or level of expertise. Thus, such evidence, or backing, not only builds the “logos” appeal for your argument, but also establishes the “ethos” appeal writers do not necessarily have within themselves. This backing may be in the form of data (facts, statistics, timelines, polls, etc) or it may be in the form of authoritative opinions and theories by experts in particular professional or academic fields; hence, articles from academic and professional journals, attained exclusively through databases found in college/university libraries, are necessary to provide this level of expertise to your discussion—as opposed to periodicals known as “popular literature” (i.e. - popular magazines, newspapers that are found in a local drugstore newsstand). For that matter, websites from .org, .gov., and .edu domains are also preferred over .com or .net domains (although all websites must undergo significant scrutiny within particular areas to determine legitimacy, such as authorship, bias, relevance, etc.).
The articles from solid academic/professional journals are your “bread and butter” for the research component of this assignment; they need to be your strongest sources, and they need to be thoughtfully considered! You also need to have one or two solid sources in this category that oppose your claim, as a way of demonstrating your credibility! In addition, and especially in light of the specific topic for this paper, I do not allow for sources that are associated with popular cable “news” channels on television nor their associated websites, such as CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX or ABC (including the so-called “academic” products NBC distributes through college libraries called “NBC Learn”). In addition, the nature of this assignment requires you to find and use highly credible websites related to the fields of journalism accountability (i.e. “watchdog” organizations) and technology—in particular, internet and/or communications technology. In general, any websites/organizations dedicated to accountability in the media, government, or even academia are all good to use in this assignment—provided they are not based upon mere, unfounded conspiracy theories (there is often a fine line between the two).
III. The Basics:
5-7 typed pages, not including the “Works Cited” page (in CORRECT MLA format)
5 sources (at least 1 documentary film can be counted as a source, while at least 3 others need to be from academic/professional journals and 2-3 others need to come from .org, .edu, and .gov websites.
A very detailed and specific OUTLINE that addresses the key components of the “Outline Guide” (see separate Word document for this on Learning Web)
Evidence of the “writing process” and an informal “Research Log”